Friday 5: Matt Tifft on the road to recovery from December seizure

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Even on his honeymoon, Matt Tifft exercised as he prepared to race again this season. But about 30 minutes after his workout, Tifft began to feel “weird.”

The only way he can describe it now is that it felt like he stuck his finger into an electrical outlet.

He tried to tell his bride something was wrong, but he couldn’t speak. His tongue rolled back. And then eyes rolled back.

“I could see it,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “I could actually see my other eye. It was the freakiest thing out of a nightmare movie that you could ever imagine.”

As his body convulsed, he couldn’t breathe.

Eleven weeks later, Tifft describes the Dec. 12 seizure — his second last year — in a way he admits he could not have done so a month ago. But understanding what likely led to both seizures and using a cannabidiol (CBD) product help his anxiety, Tifft says he feels much better and looks forward to two weeks before his 24th birthday when he can return to driving a street car. As for racing again? He hopes to do so but knows there’s no guarantee.

Matt Tifft says the use of a CBD product has helped him in the last month. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Tifft, a Cup rookie last year, suffered his first seizure shortly shortly before practice Oct. 26 in the Front Row Motorsports’ hauler at Martinsville Speedway. After the Dec. 12 seizure, there was one common theme: Tifft had been off his keto diet both times. He suffered food poisoning that led to what he said was an “extreme stomach infection” about a week before the seizure at Martinsville.

While off his diet during his honeymoon, the combination of eating foods he hadn’t — and forcing his body to process carbs and sugars it had not in some time — along with his body reacting to his workout “spiked me into the danger zone.”

But it took time for that cause to be found. Tifft, who had brain surgery in July 2016 to remove a slow-growing tumor, worried about what was happening to him and panicked about being in public.

“My battle with this anxiety and panic attacks have gotten a lot better … (with) CBD,” Tifft said of cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis. “It has actually been, I would say a life-changing thing for me to go from being terrified of leaving my house (to) being able to go in public when I started taking that. It’s made such a huge difference that I can function socially and go to places and do things.

“I find it interesting still that that’s illegal in our sport because I know so many times after intense races or you go to Dover or Bristol and your body is all twisted up and it feels terrible and you just have to take ibuprofen or Tylenol because that is what is legal. If we could take something like (CBD), I think it’s a much more natural and efficient way of helping our bodies.”

The NASCAR Rule Book addresses CBD products in its Substance Abuse Policy in a section titled: Dietary and CBD Supplements.

Section 19.3.4.a states “Dietary and CBD supplements may contain (either purposefully or through contamination) a prohibited substance under this Policy.”

Section 19.3.4.b states: “Any product sold with a warning advising non-use if the purchaser is subject to a drug testing program should be avoided even though such products may be available without a prescription.”

Sports leagues are split on CBD. The World Anti-Doping Agency announced in 2018 that CBD had been removed from its list of banned substances making this year’s Olympics the first in which athletes can legally use CBD.

MORE: Questions and answers about CBD from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

The Pain Management Committee of the NFL and NFL Players Association held a fact-finding forum in January with manufacturers of products that use CBD in sports medicine. The NFL’s drug policy includes a ban on THC, a substance found in marijuana and some CBD products. Mike Bass, NBA executive vice president of communications, told NBC Sports Philadelphia that “we have regular discussions with the players’ association about a variety of matters, including … CBD. Those conversations are ongoing.”

Tifft said he began using a CBD product in January and felt better about 20 minutes later.

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (right) celebrates after Kurt Busch won the 2017 Daytona 500. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I think the thing that initially brought me to it was athletes like Rob Gronkowski, guys who have been advocates of it afterward from their healing and recovery,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “Someone like me, who has dealt with brain issues, it’s known as a neuro protective, so for someone like me, I’ve always been interested from the outside of it and studied the results of it and effects of it.”

Should Tifft get a chance to race again in NASCAR, he knows he could be at a crossroads with CBD.

“If it came down to and I was cleared to race again and that was kind of the choice, I’d have to weigh out, if I go off of this can I feel I feel OK and be fine,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’d be fine with doing that. I think an optimal sense if we can have something that can benefit folks but also be able to come back to racing, that’s the ideal scenario.

“It depends on the time where right now I’m excited to get my normal’s drivers license June 12 because it’s a six-month process (after the last seizure). For me, right now, honestly, driving anything other than iRacing is just far-fetched.”

2. On target for 250

Last March, Kyle Busch collected his 200th career victory among NASCAR’s top three national series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — and the idea was posed that he could be on his way to 250 or more career series wins before he retires.

Busch remains on target heading to Auto Club Speedway this weekend with 209 career NASCAR victories, including his Truck win last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch has won 209 career NASCAR races across the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

His success in the Truck series — he’s won his past seven starts — led Kevin Harvick and then Marcus Lemonis to tweet that they would give a total of $100,000 to a Cup driver who could beat Busch in the Truck Series. Busch has four Truck races remaining this season. Both Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson will take that challenge

Since 2015, Busch has averaged 13.4 victories a year in those three series combined. He turns 35 in May, giving him plenty of years to reach 250 career wins, but his efforts will be slowed in the future. Busch has stated that once he hits 100 career Xfinity victories (he has 96) he would stop racing in that series except for if car owner Joe Gibbs requested him to drive in particular races.

What Busch is doing is something that won’t be seen again in NASCAR unless series officials relax the rule that limits veteran Cup drivers to no more than five Truck and five Xfinity races a season.

So just as Richard Petty’s record of 200 Cup wins is viewed as one that will not be broken — because the number of races was cut from more than 60 to 36 — Busch’s ever-increasing total also will be one that will never be touched. The next closest active driver to Busch is Harvick, who has 110 combined wins in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. The active driver after Harvick is Jimmie Johnson with 84 wins (83 in Cup and one in Xfinity).

3. Aggressive driving

Xfinity rookie Harrison Burton had an interesting take on aggressive driving when asked about it earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track” show. This is what he said:

“I think that aggression is becoming more and more acceptable in our sport,” Burton said. “From my perspective last year in the Truck Series, Ross Chastain came in and was the most aggressive guy, right? Everyone was like mad at him for like two weeks. After that, it was like ‘OK, why don’t we all race like that?’ and then it just turned up the wick of the flame and everyone kind of rose to that level and it made the racing a lot tougher, a lot more challenging, a lot more fun and it was good for the overall racing in Truck Series.

“I think that has kind of happened everywhere, not necessarily because of Ross, but the packages and the way things have been changing in the sport. It’s super aggressive now, which is super fun. That’s becoming a little bit more acceptable, but you also have to still use your head and respect the guys that have been there for years and years before you and try to find a balance there.”

4. Where’s the tax benefits?

Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, raised questions this week during TMS’ media day about the need for a better infrastructure near the track with the development that has taken place.

“Our local, state and federal officials have collected our tax money and spent it somewhere else apparently because they’re not building us roads,” Gossage said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram“We desperately need roads improved yesterday.”

Gossage went on to say:

“It’s just inappropriate for the elected officials and the bureaucrats to have that kind of development without building the proper infrastructure to support it. I call on all of them to get out here today to start building those roads because it doesn’t matter if you’re a business or a resident, there’s too little concrete out here to get where you need to get going.”

5. Testing

William Byron will stay in California longer after Sunday’s race to test the Next Gen car on Monday and Tuesday.

He’ll become the fourth driver to test the car. Austin Dillon drove it at Richmond in October, Joey Logano tested it at Phoenix in December, and Erik Jones drove it at Homestead in January.

NASCAR’s next test after the Auto Club test is scheduled to take place March 16-17 at Atlanta.

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eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.